Sleep, Lies and Videogames


By Abigail Sterne
on 19 June, 2016

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Adolescence and Insomnia

Are we, as educators, missing a trick by not teaching young people about the importance of adequate sleep for wellbeing?

Poor sleep has a negative effect on behaviour and learning and causes consternation in families.

How does lack of sleep affect adolescents?

As children enter adolescence, changes in circadian rhythms mean they need less sleep and feel tired later in the evening. With Facebook and FIFA, some teens seem simply too busy to sleep and become hyper-alert at bedtime. Their parents struggle to police a healthy routine.

Adolescents need around 9 ¼ hours’ sleep a night. One study found that they get on average 7 ½ hours on school nights. The long list of negative outcomes associated with insufficient sleep, includes low mood, inattention, lower grades, behaviour problems and working memory difficulties. Sleep deprived young people are far more likely to suffer clinical depression. (Carskadon 2011)

Educational Psychology woman with megaphone

Image Credit: Len Grant

What can schools do to promote healthy sleeping?

So, what’s to be done? Young people don’t like to be preached at, but they do seem to like learning about psychology and the brain. Maybe, if we provide information about sleep and ways to get to sleep more easily, this might motivate them to adjust their bedtime routines for themselves.

Recently I devised a three session programme for a small group of boys in KS4, all of whom were identified as having sleep problems that impacted on their school lives.

We started with a sleep quiz and I provided a sleep diary. I provided information about the impact of insufficient sleep and some strategies for getting to sleep. I wanted to help them compare their routines and behaviours to those considered optimum for good sleep.

In the course of sessions, they were amused by each others’ sleep-related foibles, dreams and nightmares.

We talked about:

  • The psychology of sleep, circadian rhythms and the teenage brain
  • Establishing healthy sleep routines; ensuring you feel sleepy at bedtime
  • The stimulant effect of electronic devices and factors such as late night family arguments, homework and revision
  • The stimulant effect of certain types of food and drink; the importance of eliminating caffeine before bedtime
  • Making sleep more comfortable
  • Using relaxation techniques

Of course, most were too tired to have kept their diaries regularly. Instead, during our sessions we calculated their nightly sleep for the previous night or two.

Digital Sleep Tracking

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that there are a variety of apps and gadgets that can track your sleep patterns, and rate your night’s sleep. Adding a technological element to the process might encourage students to get involved. For example, FitBits can record your sleep patterns to your smartphone, and apps such as sleep cycle use your phone’s built in accelerometer to achieve the same result.

So, does it make a difference?

The young people said they found it useful and a parent said it made a big difference immediately after the sessions, but that things were already lapsing.  Perhaps ‘top-up’ reminder sessions would also be helpful.

Schools could make these sessions part of a PSHE curriculum, or deliver them in a form period or even an assembly. Clearly learning about healthy sleep routines in high school could have lifelong benefits.

An overall approach for schools might include:

  • Teaching young people about the importance of adequate sleep and about avoiding stimulating activities late at night 
  • Informing parents and encouraging them to set appropriate bedtimes
  • Providing additional support to young people who identify themselves as having a sleep problem

And if all else fails...

In a recent meeting, a desperate mother outlined her strategy of last resort: removing the fuse from the plug of the XBOX and acting the innocent.


I’m sure I wasn’t the only one around that table making mental notes.

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If you would like to discuss the topics raised in this article, contact our team of educational psychologists on 0844 967 1111, or leave us a comment below.

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